Things they never told me about the glory of middle-age

I own time now. I own my language. I own my mess


When you hit your 40s, you’ve grown into a big tree. Photo: Natasha Badhwar
When you hit your 40s, you’ve grown into a big tree. Photo: Natasha Badhwar

For starters, of course I am not middle-aged, whatever that means. I am 45. I have been thinking of writing this piece for at least three years now and this is one of the glories of being in one’s 40s. There is so much space to spread things out. I own time now.

My 20s were heady and somewhat unsure, my 30s were anxious and trying to root themselves and now I feel quite calm. I am a big tree. I have learnt a few life skills on the way and I am delighted to discover how well they work.

I’m not entirely sure why I am enjoying my mid-40s so much. I feel like I must take this apart to make sure I have not misunderstood my life.

At 31, when I had been working in a media organization for almost a decade and was expecting our first child, I increasingly became convinced that I was witnessing the end of my life as I had known it. I felt a sense of loss then. Now I feel a sense of re-gain-ment. I allow myself to create new hyphenated words when I need them. I own my language.

On some days, I feel like I have only just completed doing things that I had started to do when I was 20. Especially when I tentatively speak up when I am feeling intimidated and a bully backs off. When I make a joke that makes me laugh and I am satisfied with my sense of humour. When I am asked for a favour and I misunderstand it as something I owe to the world, but insight strikes me in time and I know I can say no. When I give things away knowing that I have always received more than I have needed or expected. When I don’t take things because I already have enough.

Middle-age is awfully useful. It isn’t always a plateau and on the days that it is, I lie down and take an afternoon nap. Plateaus are designed for rest and great sex. Views, I mean. Great views.

My house is untidy and full of unsorted piles and I don’t mind it. I mind it but not enough to do anything about it, which probably means I secretly don’t mind it. I own my mess.

This is a time when we are often the most able adults in our lives, with ageing parents on one side and growing children on the other. It is exhausting. And exhilarating. The thing with both one’s parents and children is that they are kind people. They allow me to be bratty and childish once in a while and that’s a great comfort at 45.

My friends have sorted themselves naturally into useful categories all by themselves. Those who really want my company, find me somehow. They come over and demonstrate different types of adulthood to our children. Sometimes it is a decade before we can see each other again, but it feels like it was only just yesterday when we last met. I own their love.

I make overlapping plans. I forget dates and commitments but I blame myself less than I used to. I don’t belong to everyone else. I own myself now.

My children are grown-up enough to want to be on their own a lot. I need to be around but also a little afar. How wonderful this is. They wear their protective cloaks all by themselves. Go, go, go, I say to them. Get out of the house, explore the neighbourhood and don’t come back for some time.

The belief that early youth is the peak of one’s life has been proven to be a fallacy. Now one feels far more productive, especially when one finds oneself managing so much more with much less effort. I write when I sleep, I raise children when I am away from home, I support people with just words. This is also when one realizes that this isn’t the peak either. There’s a lot more uphill ahead for us.

There are so many things that I still want to do. Thinking about doing them makes me as happy as doing them. I own my imagination.

I don’t always recognize my face when I catch it in the mirror. It has gone too far ahead from what I might always remember as me. On other days, I see both my daughter and my mother in my reflection. This is glory in capital letters for me.

Of course, I am typing out this column on a morning when the early winter sun is sparkling outside my window, the smog has lifted in Delhi and a squirrel has just escaped the claws of a kite in the garden outside. All this helps. The people who work for me and the people for whom I work have all been creative and efficient recently. I have chosen my teams well.

Hillary Clinton lost the race in the US presidential elections this week. Donald Trump is here to remind us every day that the human race is deeply flawed and makes self-destructive, mock-able choices (I have invented a new hyphenated word for us).

Our time on this planet is limited, so we might as well start being happy now. I use the word happy loosely. Sometimes I am happy even when I am not looking happy. Some days I am happy to relieve myself from being sad. Sometimes it is the light, birdsong or just the tuneless tune in my own heart.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar.

Also read: Natasha’s Mint Lounge columns

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